Negation patterns in West African languages

Negation patterns in West African languages and beyond. Ed. by Norbert Cyffer, Erwin Ebermann, and Georg Ziegelmeyer. (Typological studies in language 87.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. 368. ISBN 9789027206688. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by Gian Claudio Batic, University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’

This volume focuses on the negation strategies and the conceptualization of negative categories in West African languages, with special attention paid to two geolinguistic areas: East Nigeria and the Gur and Mande regions.

The book is comprised of fifteen chapters, each discussing different aspects of and approaches for analyzing negation and its conceptualization. Preceded by an introductory section stating the main goals of the volume (1–6), the contributions cover the following languages and/or group(s) of languages, by chapter: 1. Hausa, Fulfulde, and Kanuri (Georg Ziegelmeyer, 7–20); 2.  Lamang and Hdi (H.Ekkehard Wolff, 21–56); 3. Hausa (Philip J. Jaggar, 57–70); 4. Kanuri (Norbert Cyffer, 71–92); 5. Songhay (Petr Zima, 93–106); 6. Jukun (Anne Storch, 107–20); 7. Igbo (Ozo-mekuri Ndimele, 121–28); 8. Santome (Tjerk Hagemeijer, 139–66); 9. Gur languages (Kerstin Winkelmann and Gudrun Miehe, 167–204); 10. West African languages (Klaus Beyer, 205–22); 11. Southern Mande (Valentin Vydrine, 223–60); 12. Northern Samo (Erwin Ebermann, 261–86); 13. Berber (Amina Mettouchi, 287–306); and 14. central African languages (Matthew S. Dryer, 307–62). Three useful indices complete the volume: a language index (363–64), a name index (365–66), and a subject index (367–68).

As stated in the introduction, ‘the main objective of this volume is to document negation patterns in individual languages or linguistic units’ (6). The underlying hypothesis is that the conceptualization of negative categories may have arisen through an area-oriented process as well as from individual languages. For this reason, language contact areas (and the results of such a contact) are given quite a number of analyses: among others, Georg Ziegelmeyer on Hausa, Fulfulde, and Kanuri (belonging to the Afroasiatic, Niger-Congo, and Nilo-Saharan phyla, respectively) and Erwin Ebermann on North Samo (a Mande language belonging to the Niger-Congo phylum).

The sharing of common features in negation encoding seems to be a proof of the existence of contact-induced phenomena. A better understanding of negation systems in language contact areas can certainly promote further discussion on those topics that have been investigated for individual languages under no comparative and areal perspective. From this point of view, the article by Anne Storch provides an interesting analysis of the distribution of the copy pronoun in negative constructions in Jukunoid languages. The similarity between the intransitive copy pronoun as described for the Chadic Family (a feature thought to be genetically inherited Chadic), and the recapitulating pronoun as individuated in Benue-Congo suggests a borrowing of the feature and consequent areal spread. The book also gives space to articles of a more grammatical orientation: it is the case of Philip J. Jaggar’s contribution on the Hausa negative adverbial intensifier, which is almost neglected in previous grammars of Hausa (including, as admitted by the author, Philip J. Jaggar’s reference grammar).

Well-structured and clear in stating its main purposes, this book brings new insights into the study of negation system, offering at the same time a significant overview of negative categories in a certain number of selected languages. Scholars dealing with West African languages, either at the typological or areally-oriented level, will find in this book a rich set of informative and analytical tools.